Who doesn't love the Fourth of July? The parade down Main Street, the City Band concert in Lithia Park, the fireworks lighting up the night sky — all of it a celebration of the founding of our nation, a birthday party for America.
When our Constitution was drafted in 1787, its framers created the means for the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson had penned 11 years earlier to move from dream to reality.
The Declaration's first principles — liberty, equality, inalienable rights and a government ruled by the people — so deeply define our nation's character and identity one might forget how revolutionary those principles were. To be sure, more than 200 years later, we are still working to truly fulfill the Declaration's inspiring vision that we all have a right to liberty and equality, but it's also undeniable that we have made significant progress over the last two and a quarter centuries.
Our nation's Founders knew that those first principles would only be realized if put in the hands of citizens. And so they began our Constitution with the words "We the people." In doing so, they gave each of us a voice and a stake in what this country would become.
Today, this privilege has been corrupted by decisions such as the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. Our government is no longer directed by the people. Instead it is money, tied to special interests, that overpowers our nation's politics.
For example, 132 Americans gave 60 percent of the Super PAC money spent in the 2012 election cycle, and members of Congress spend up to 70 percent of their time getting re-elected rather than addressing the needs of their constituents. As a result, Congress ignores the will of the people.
Polls show a majority of us favor increased commitment to public education, taking action on climate change and implementing stricter financial regulation. Fully 90 percent of Americans favor background checks before purchasing a gun, but Congress doesn't act.
And yet there is reason for optimism. The framers knew maintaining the republic would not be an easy task, so they built into our Constitution the ability to amend it, if two-thirds of the states agree. There are groups that are working to fix our broken system.
For example, Move to Amend is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood and curb corporations' ability to unduly influence elections with their dollars. And there are other organizations doing thoughtful work on federal election reform. Two worth supporting are Root-Strikers and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Thomas Jefferson said, "The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave." I believe it's time that we make some waves — get involved and speak out. We must steer our nation away from the path where elected officials are constantly chasing the money and back onto the path of a government of We The People. If we fail, I fear that what our Founding Fathers fought so hard to give us — a nation guided by its citizenry — will become, once again, a dream that lives only in peoples' imaginations.
Lorraine Cook is an Ashland resident and volunteer with The Pachamama Alliance. See www.pachamama.org.